Two Serpents Rise

June 7, 2017 at 1:12 pm (Reads) (, )

serpentsTwo Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

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I may have waited a bit too long between finishing this book and reviewing it, as already I feel like I’m losing some of the details from the book. On the other hand, good books tend to linger in your mind, so maybe the fact that I’m already forgetting parts of it is a bad sign. It definitely didn’t have the same kind of punch as Three Parts Dead, which might be due, in part, to much of the world-building already having been done. It didn’t feel as interesting, either, which is the main source of my disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s a lot of cool stuff here. The water demons are especially memorable, and I think it’s a great idea that a world that trades in magic uses parts of their soul as currency. Plus, Gladstone draws on Mayan and Aztec culture to populate this city, which is something not seen often in fantasy fiction. He even adds a living skeleton as the CEO for one of the companies in the book, which was cool, except I’m a reader of The Order of the Stick, so I kept getting Xykon stuck in my head whenever he appeared in the story. I can’t fault the author for that, though. The biggest problem for me is the main plot is mostly a love story, when all of the other subplots in the book would have made for a better focus.

Caleb, our main character, works for a company that supplies water to a desert region, so it’s a big deal when he’s called out to investigate the possible poisoning of one of their reservoirs. Once there, he encounters a female runner who catches his attention, and, by all rights, is likely responsible for the poisoning. Smitten, Caleb proceeds to make a bunch of stupid decisions that prolong the investigation, simply because he’s convinced she couldn’t be involved. The story is still engaging (possibly more than Three Parts Dead, just because a large part of the world-building isn’t required here), and the plot is complex without being complicated, but I feel like Gladstone was aiming for a younger crowd by zooming in so much on that relationship.

What I like most about this book — and the series overall — is that it’s so different from Three Parts Dead. Instead of writing multiple books about the same character, Gladstone instead creates an entire world where each book can stand independent of the rest, because there’s so much possibility there. I wasn’t so disappointed in Two Serpents Rise that I was ready to give up on the entire series, but the fact that Gladstone’s universe is big enough to support a variety of possible stories gives me more of a reason to keep reading. That the story is about a water management company, and is still interesting, is a feat all by itself.

I’m taking a break from the series for a book or two, not out of lack of interest, but because I have a couple of new books I’ve been wanting to read. After that, I plan to return to Gladstone’s world and see what else he has up his sleeves. So long as he stays a little further away from the romance in them, I expect to like the rest of them as much as I liked the first.

 

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Three Parts Dead

May 31, 2017 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, )

threeThree Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

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The Craft Sequence has been on my radar for a while, but up until a few weeks ago, it hadn’t been a contender for reading outside of my normal schedule. That changed for two reasons: a friend of mine recently finished it and gave it a great review; and I read an article by Gladstone where he talked about the importance of character. The article was sharp and on point, and I realized if someone had that innate of an understanding of character, it was probably time for me to read his books.

Three Parts Dead is the first of five (so far) novels in the sequence, all told out of sequential order. Here, we meet Tara Abernathy, a woman who recently graduated from what amounts to mage school, but the mages here — known as Craftsmen — use their powers to enforce the law. When a god dies, she’s hired by a firm to help determine what caused his death, and how they can resurrect him. Simple stuff, right?

The book is touted as a combination urban fantasy and legal thriller, but honestly, it felt more like an urban fantasy mystery to me. I might be splitting hairs with my distinction, but other than the fact that part of the story takes place in court, I wouldn’t have thought of this as a legal thriller at all. It’s well written, with a complex plot that wraps up without cheating the reader, and it’s full of realized characters and creative ideas. It reminded me of China Miéville, though much more approachable and readable.

Gladstone fills this book with a lot of ideas — gods, vampires, and mages only touch the surface of his well — so much of the story is world-building. There’s a lot of it, but none of it feels out of place. Instead of relying on info-dumps throughout the story, Gladstone lets the details grow organically through dialogue, situations, and characters. It means that it will take a little more time to get the story, but I kind of like that approach to a story anyway.

There were moments in the story where I got lost, thanks in part to how much Gladstone was putting into the story, but it was also due to his getting too poetic in his narrative. He kept making comparisons that weren’t concrete (at one point he described something being “black as love”, or close to it), and they drew me out of the story. I get the feeling he was trying to avoid cliches, but I prefer similes that aren’t vague; they don’t make any sense in the end.

Overall, though, this is an impressive story. By the end, I was caught up enough in the story that I had to postpone my bedtime, and as the story drew to a close, the tension grew to the point where I could almost feel it. I had already picked up the remaining books in the series, thanks to all the good I had read about it, so I’m glad it turned out to be as good as I expected. I just hope the fact that they’re all published out of order won’t affect the rest of the series.

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